Big Ten champions, for the first time in its history those are words you can finally associate with the No. 19 Michigan men’s soccer team.
The Wolverines were able to pull off the victory in College Park, 2-1, in double overtime, clinching the regular season conference title.
The game was sealed by standout junior forward Francis Atuahene, who was able to score with a sliding goal that came off the pass from sophomore forward Jack Hallahan.
The game was all aligned for a Maryland win, as it was a home game for the more experienced, ninth-ranked Terrapin squad that have, for the past couple of seasons, overpowered the Wolverines. But this season, as has become abundantly clear, is profoundly different from last.
The Wolverines weren’t fazed, scoring inside the first 10 minutes of the game thanks to a header from junior defender Daniel Mukuna.
The weather wasn’t optimal, as a rainstorm in Maryland and caused for some sloppy play at points. But the Wolverines looked to be in better control, thanks to its preparation.
“Fortunately for the past two weeks in Michigan there has been some bad weather,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “We have been able to get some practices in the heavy rain.”
The weather played into the hands of the Wolverines, as they controlled most of the game. The young Michigan team played at their own pace and tempo, wearing out the Maryland defense.
For much of the game, though, it appeared Maryland might come close to the crown. Late in the first half, forward DJ Reeves scored unassisted with less than 10 minutes to go.
Most of the second half was a game of field position and ball possession. The Wolverines were able to get some decent looks on goal, but were unable to capitalize.
Late in the game, Daley was given the news that his team was given the chance to win the Big Ten title due to the overtime game with Michigan State. With a break in the game due to a minor injury to senior Billy Stevens, Daley relayed the message to his team that they were given the ability to become Big Ten Champions for the first time in school history.
“Once we were sure we told the guys,” Daley said. “There was a little lift but the guys weathered the storm, no pun intended.”
The first overtime period was controlled by the Terrapins, but with only a few looks on net, they came up empty handed.
Knowing quite well it would come up shy of the title without a goal, the players pushed the tempo. Fittingly, it was Atuahene, the team’s energizer and go-to playmaker who scored the championship winner. It will go down as the most important goal in program history.
“It is golden goal is what I told the guys,” Daley said. “This is your only chance and you have to make it.”
The Wolverines didn’t shy away from that challenge. Instead they relished it, sealing their fate and winning the Big Ten championship.